Arthritis hurts. It can slow you down and leave you feeling frustrated and powerless. It can keep you from doing the things you love–from sports to woodworking to needlework. But if arthritis is bringing you down, don’t give up. Working with your doctor, you can manage or treat arthritis and return to your favorite activities.
What Is Arthritis?
Osteoarthritis (known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis) is the most common type. It happens when the soft cartilage at the tips of your bones starts to wear down. Your spongy cartilage acts as a cushion between bones. The bones rub against each other when cartilage wears away, causing pain and mobility issues. Your hands, fingers, knees, hips, and spine are the most common locations for osteoarthritis. Other types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis (a condition where the immune system attacks the joints), gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 US adults (almost 60 million) have been diagnosed with arthritis. The condition is more common in women than men and is most common in older adults, appearing in nearly half of people over 65.
How Do I Know If I Have Arthritis?
Common osteoarthritis symptoms include:
- Joint stiffness
- Decreased range of motion
- Tenderness, redness, or warmth in the joints
What Are Treatments for Arthritis?
There are several approaches to treating and managing arthritis. Your primary care doctor is an excellent first resource. For many patients, the first step is medication:
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen reduce pain and swelling.
- Topical creams with menthol or capsaicin soothe the pain.
- Steroids, including prednisone, reduce inflammation. We can give steroids in oral form or by injection.
- When more conservative options fail, or pain becomes hard to manage, your doctor may recommend surgery, including joint replacement or repair. Joint replacement involves replacing your wear-and-tear-damaged joint with an artificial one. Hips and knees are the most commonly replaced joints.
- Physical therapy can help manage arthritis without surgery in some cases. It increases your strength and range of motion and makes it easier to become and stay active.
- Many patients successfully manage arthritis with alternative therapies, including massage, acupuncture, yoga, and tai chi.
- Changing your diet can also help with arthritis. Seek out anti-inflammatory foods, including omega-3-rich fish, leafy greens, and fruits, including apples, blueberries, cherries, and pineapple.
- Drink plenty of water–it can help keep inflammation at bay.
Can Exercise Help with Arthritis?
Arthritis pain may make us want to slow down. But in fact, stopping activity often makes arthritis worse. Once we get over initial hurdles, exercise can help us manage arthritis. Here are a few good reasons to stay active with arthritis.
- Exercise increases blood flow to the cartilage and helps cushion your bones.
- Strengthening your muscles is good for your bones. Healthy muscles help support your joints and protect damaged cartilage.
- Exercise can help with weight loss and reduce stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Exercise is a mood-lifter. Physical activity makes us feel better, making pain easier to manage.
- Exercise improves sleep, which creates a virtuous cycle of activity. When we feel rested, it’s easier to be active, which makes us feel even better.
When Should I Talk to My Doctor About Joint Replacement Surgery?
Joint replacement surgery is a big step with a significant recovery. However, it’s life-changing for many patients, relieving pain and allowing them to return to their favorite activities. The Arthritis Foundation suggests questions to ask if you’re considering joint surgery. They include:
- Is arthritis pain affecting your daily life, mood, and relationships?
- Are pain and stiffness getting worse?
- Have you given up activities you love because of arthritis pain?
- Have you exhausted other therapies?
- Does your overall health make surgery a good option?
- Are you committed to the challenges of post-surgical rehabilitation?
How Can My Primary Care Doctor Help Me Manage Arthritis?
Your primary care doctor can support you in managing chronic conditions, including arthritis. At PrimaPatient, our patient-centered approach focuses on preventive care and managing chronic conditions to help patients live their best lives. If you have arthritis, Dr. Ojha can present options that work for you, including medications, diet, exercise, and alternative therapies. If you’re considering joint replacement surgery, a conversation with Dr. Ojha is an excellent place to start. She can evaluate your unique situation and develop a comprehensive plan with your overall health in mind.